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Union of Church and State


What was already at work in the church in Paul’s day?


For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.” 2 Thessalonians 2:7.


What class of men did he say would arise in the church?


“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” Acts 20:29,30.


What was to develop in the church before Christ’s Second Coming?


“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for the day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.”

2 Thessalonians 2:3.


How was this “falling away” from the truth shown?


By the adoption of heathen rites and customs in the church.


Note – Tertullian, about 200 A.D. 200, mentions many admittedly no scriptural practices as already traditional in his day, such as immersing three times in baptism, thus, “making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel;” offerings for the dead as birthday honors; the prohibition of “fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord’s day, … also from Easter to Whitsunday;” a special reverence for bread and wine; and the tracing of the sign of the cross on the forehead “at every forward step and movement, and every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we set at the table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life.” – De Corona, chaps. 3,4 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3 (1918 ed.), pp. 94, 95. 


Union of Church and State Begins


What came to be the character and work of many bishops?


“Worldly-minded bishops, instead of caring for the salvation of their flocks, were often but too much inclined to travel about, and entangle themselves in worldly concerns.”    

- Neander, General History of the Christian Religion and Church (Torrey’s translation), Vol, 2, p. 16.


What did the bishops determine to do?


“This theocratical theory was already the prevailing one in the time of Constantine; and the bishops voluntarily made themselves dependent on him by their disputes, and by their determination to make use of the power of the state for the furtherance of their aims.”

- Ibid., p. 132. 


Note – The “theocratical theory,” that of a government administered by God through the bishops, was confronted by the actuality of the pagan system under which the emperor had been Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest, of the pagan state religion, in consequence of which Constantine, after his recognition of Christianity, regarded himself as a sort of bishop of external affairs of the church, and the church as a sort of department of the government. The ideal of the bishops that of a government guided by God through the church was pursued with variable but increasing success in Western Europe in the development of the bishop of Rome as the pope.


What has been one great characteristic of the papacy?


A union of church and state, or the religious power dominating the civil power to further its ends.   


When was the union of church and state formed from which the papacy grew?  


The foundation was laid for it during the reign of Constantine, A.D. 313-337, and it developed under his successors.


Note – Constantine’s granting first liberty and then preference to the recently persecuted Christians “opened the door to the elevation of Christianity, and specifically of Catholic hierarchical Christianity, with its exclusiveness towards heretical and schismatic sects, to be the religion of the state. For, once put on an equal footing with heathenism, it must soon, in spite of numerical minority, bear away the victory from a religion that had already inwardly outlived itself. From the time Constantine decidedly favored the church, though without persecuting or forbidding the pagan religions.” –Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Scribners, 1902 ed.), Vol. 3, pp. 30,31. Under Constantine’s successors official paganism was abolished, and Christianity made the only legal religion of the state.


State Support


How did the elevation of the church begin?     


Through the patronage and religious legislation of Constantine.


Note – Authorities differ as to when – or whether Constantine was converted to Christianity, and whether he favored the church more from religious or political motives. The outline of events follows:


A.D. 306 – Constantine’s accession as one of the four rulers of the empire, with jurisdiction over the Prefecture of Gaul.

A.D. 312 – His victory over Maxentius, which made him sole ruler of the West, and which he attributed to the aid of the God of the Christians, whom he had invoked after a supposed vision of a cross in the sky.

A.D. 313 – The so-called Edict of Milan, issued jointly with his colleague Licenius, granting liberty to all, of whatever religious belief, and particularly mentioning the Christians. Hereafter Constantine surrounded himself with bishops, gave preference to the Christians, and issued legislation in their favor, without renouncing or persecuting paganism.

A.D. 321 – His famous Sunday law, which served to unite his Christian and pagan subjects in the observance of “the venerable day of the Sun.” 

A.D. 323 or 324 – His attainment of sole rule of the whole empire by the defeat of his last rival, the pagan Licinius, who had resumed persecution of Christians in the East; his open espousal and promotion of Christianity about this time, and the subsequent disappearance of the sun-god and other pagan symbols from his coinage.

A.D. 325 – His convening of the Council of Nicaca, which he dominated, in order to secure unity in the church; subsequently, his enforcement of that unity against heretical Christians in favor of the Catholic Church.

A.D. 337 – His long deferred baptism during his last illness.

For principle facts about Constantine, see Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, pp. 12-36; for shorter treatment see A.F. Flick, The Rise of the Medieval Church, pp. 115-122; A.E.R. Boak, A History of Rome to 565 A.D. ,pp. 347-350.  


What form did this government patronage take under Constantine and later rulers?


Immunities, privileges, and certain judicial functions for the clergy, and gifts, endowments, and financial support for the church; first on a basis of equality with the priesthood and temples of paganism, then on preferred basis, and finally the exclusion of all except Catholic orthodoxy.


What kinds of religious legislation united church and state?


Laws granting privileges and patronage, and those enforcing church dogmas. Practices, or disciplinary decrees, or suppressing paganism and heresy. 


Note – Constantine’s earliest Christian legislation “exempted the Christian clergy from military and municipal duty (March, 313); abolished various customs and ordinances offensive to the Christians (315); facilitated the emancipation of Christian slaves (before 316); legalized bequests to catholic churches (321); enjoined the civil observance of Sunday, though not as dies Domini [Lord’s day], but as dies Solis [the Sun’s day], and in company with an ordinance for the regular consulting of the haruspex [soothsayer] (321).” –Philip Schaff, The History of the Christian Church (Scribners, 1902 ed.), Vol. 3, p. 31. For Sunday legislation see the following reading.


State Supervision


How did Constantine initiate state supervision of the church?


Having achieved political unity in the empire, he sought to gain church unity through church councils.


Note - The first ecumenical, or general, council of Nicaea, in 325, was called and presided over by Constantine. “The ecumenical councils,” says Schaff, “have only an ecclesiastical significance, but bear also a political or state-church character. The very name refers to the empire. The Christian Graeco-Roman emperor is indispensable to an ecumenical council in the ancient sense of the term; its temporal head and it legislative strength. Upon this Byzantine precedent, and upon the example of the kings of Israel, the Russian Czars and the Protestant princes of Germany, Scandinavia, and England – be it just or unjustly – build their claim to a similar and still more extended supervision of the church in their dominions.” –Ibid., pp. 334, 335.


What were the principle questions discussed at Nicaea?


 First the Arian controversy; next, the date for Easter.


Note – “It appears that the churches of the Syria and Mesopotamia continued to follows the custom of the Jews, and celebrated Easter on the fourteenth day of the moon, whether falling on Sunday or not. All the other churches observed that solemnity on Sunday only, viz.: those of Rome, Italy, Africa, Lydia, Egypt, Spain, Gaul and Britain; and all Greece, Asia, and Pontus.” – Isaac Boyle, Historical View of the Council of Nice (1836 ed.), p. 23. By this council Easter was fixed on the Sunday immediately following the full moon which was nearest after the vernal equinox.


What does Neander say of the securing of religious laws? 


“In this way, the church received help from the state for the furtherance of her ends.”

- General History of the Christian Religion and the Church (Torrey translation), 1852 ed.), Vol. 2, p. 301.  


Note – In this way the church and state were united. In this way the church gained control of the civil power, which she later used as a means of carrying on most bitter and extensive persecutions. In this way she denied Christ and the power of godliness, and denied that the civil power should be exerted to compel men to serve God, as the church should dictate.


What did Augustine, the father of the Christian theocratic, or church-and-state theory, teach concerning it?


Who doubts but what it is better to be led to God by instruction, than by fear of punishment or affliction? But because the former, who will be guided only by instruction, are better, the others are still not to be neglected. Many, like bad servants, must be reclaimed to their master by the rod of temporal suffering, ere they can attain to this highest state of religious development.’” – Ibid., pp. 214, 215. 


Lord, in humble, sweet submission.

Here we meet to follow Thee,

Trusting in Thy great salvation,

Which alone can make us free.


Naught have we to claim as merit,

All duties we can do

Can no crown of life inherit;

All the praise to Thee is due.

                        - Robert T. Daniel.          


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